Ted Widmer: From Obama, a Proudly Liberal Message

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: NYT, Barack Obama, State of the Union, presidential addresses, Ted Widmer

Ted Widmer, assistant to the president for special projects at Brown University, is the editor of “Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy.” A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he was recently a consultant to the State Department.

THE bright blue tie worn by President Obama to his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening was an accurate barometer of the weather. This was the most Democratic State of the Union in some time, not just in the range of government initiatives he proposed — the annual speech is usually a long laundry list — but because it set a new tone.

Mr. Obama was looser than he has been in these previous annual messages to Congress — and unapologetic about his belief in government as an instrument to improve people’s lives. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, might have been right when he snorted, in the blur of televised commentary that followed, that it was the most liberal speech by a president to Congress since Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration.

Though it was his birthday, Lincoln went unmentioned (as did Mardi Gras). The only bit of history in the speech was at the opening, when Mr. Obama took us back to President John F. Kennedy’s second State of the Union address, in 1962 — the start of an eventful year that would include the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the integration of Ole Miss, a strong White House response to price-gouging in the steel industry and the rapid expansion of NASA....

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